The state of UK energy has been at the forefront of the news for the best part of a year, with the fallout of the war in Ukraine leading to energy prices skyrocketing. Energy companies still using archaic energy sources such as gas and oil, the main Russian export, have used the war as a license to hitch up their prices, so that millions struggle across the UK while those companies engaging in what some would call war profiteering make record-breaking profits. Shell doubled last year’s profits to £32 billion, British Gas owner Centrica made £3.3 billion in profit, while BP made £23 billion profit while simultaneously scaling back their climate targets. All this has made some people like myself question whether the UK should put more effort into improving our nuclear energy to improve our climate prospects and give the common people a fair price.

Some people want absolutely nothing to do with nuclear energy following the troublesome history surrounding the technology, with large-scale accidents at Fukushima and Chernobyl, as well as the malicious intent through which the technology was created. However, people’s fear of nuclear following Chernobyl in particular may be unreasonable. Although the official death toll of 100 for the accident is almost certainly too low, it is likely not much higher considering it is the largest nuclear incident of all time. The HBO series covering the events does paint a sorry story, yet it can’t be forgotten that at the end of the day, it is still heavily dramatized. Thyroid cancer has a particularly high survival rate of around 92%, and even with all deaths tallied up, nuclear still has one of the highest safety rates, with 0.03 deaths per unit of production, meaning someone would only die every 33 years, lower than wind, hydropower and all non-renewable energy sources.

Despite being a non-renewable source of energy, no greenhouse gases are emitted in the production of nuclear energy, and considering the impact of greenhouse gases on health, a strong argument can be made for more nuclear energy. Around 800,000 people die annually from air pollution, and 64,000 in the UK alone. The WHO predicts around 4.2 million die yearly from outdoor sources, while a Vohra et al. study from 2021 puts that number at 8.7 million, around a fifth of all global deaths. Meanwhile nuclear, with no greenhouse gas output, reduces carbon output in the US alone by more than 470 million metric tons each year, which is the equivalent of removing 100 million cars off of the road. It is clear that not using nuclear causes more deaths yearly than using nuclear has ever done, and Germany’s nuclear phase-out since Fukushima is said to have caused 1,100 more deaths yearly, according to Analysis by Stephen Jarvis, Olivier Deschenes, and Akshaya Jha in 2020.

And it is not like the Chernobyl and Fukushima incidents were destined to happen through nuclear volatility. The Chernobyl incident was caused by poor management and striking design flaws in the pursuit of cost saving, while Fukushima was (for some reason) built along the coast in an earthquake-prone area with only 6 metres of sea wall and possessed malfunctioning equipment not tested for 40 years. These reactors were incredibly out of date, and the new generation of nuclear reactors promise a different fortune.

Rolls-Royce plans to build 30 state-of-the-art small modular reactors (SMRs) which are supposedly cheaper and more effective than current-generation reactors, and each has the capacity to power half a million homes. Currently, 4 are in late-stage planning, but criticism has landed on the estimated cost of £2 billion each. However, it must be considered that split over the number of houses these reactors can sustain, the cost no longer seems exorbitant, especially when considering the efficiency these reactors will bring. Current reactors create about the same amount of power as 3 million solar panels, and the increased efficiency suggests nuclear could even become a major player in UK energy, allowing the UK to develop into a new energy powerhouse while still providing every house with clean, affordable energy. The Hinkley Point C project from EDF could power 6 million homes alone but carries a cost of £32 billion. Some other criticism is the high amount of carbon output in the production of the reactors, yet it still has less carbon output pound-for-pound than solar and wind energy.

Yet perhaps the largest feasible criticism is the fact that, at current output, uranium stores will only last for 60 to 70 years. Deal breaker? It shouldn’t be. The same longevity issues apply to all other non-renewable sources, and those pump out greenhouse gases at a devilish rate. Anti-nuclear campaigners often fail to see that despite the large costs of reactors that will seemingly be redundant within a few decades, the benefits are aplenty. These reactors would provide much more clean energy for the country and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. The costs are large, certainly, but saving lives and ensuring the future of our planet should be paramount. Nuclear provides a huge opportunity here.

Especially considering the development of nuclear fusion technology. Fusion is the process stars go through to produce energy, and efforts have increased to make this technology work on earth. Recently the JET laboratory in the UK managed to create more energy than was put in their test reactor by colliding hydrogen atoms. Fusion is a particularly exciting technology due to not requiring a fuel like uranium, instead needing a source like hydrogen, something much more abundant. Commercialisation is still far adrift, so the investment needed right now in nuclear fission must not be forgotten.

Nuclear energy is the obvious natural successor to fossil fuel power, yet the drive from the government already is apparent, with two mega projects already well under way. Right now, the government’s priorities should lie in delivering the projects on time, increasing the widespread sustainability of the national energy grid and ending the stigma behind nuclear energy. While the fear of nuclear is understandable, what with the thousands of deaths after Chernobyl, but this fear has contributed to the deaths of millions annually. Our dependence on fossil fuels must end in order to make proper strides in solving the environmental issues faced, and nuclear energy provides the perfect solution.